Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Re-thinking a youthful prejudice

Not so long ago I was taking some of my contemporaries to task for holding to their youthful dislike of Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935) for being a “gyp” with its lack of “real” vampires, and I wondered at the time if this kind of youthful prejudice held true outside of the horror genre. I got my answer about two weeks ago without leaving the comfort of my own head. I had been guilty of it myself.

We had company, and as is usually the case with company, the TV was on as background in case the conversation lagged—and in my experience that’s pretty darn likely with people you don’t see all that often. Now at Maison Cranky the TV being on either means it’s on one of those alleged science or history channels where they spend 58 minutes trying to establish if something is or isn’t Jesus’ paisley shawl and the last two minutes concluding that they can’t really tell, or it’s on TCM. In this instance, it was TCM and they happened to run William Wyler’s Roman Holiday (1953) with Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert.

This is a movie for which I’ve long harbored a vague dislike. In the past few years I’ve seen bits and pieces of it—and that scene where Gregory Peck pretends to have his hand bitten off in the mouth of the stone idol I’ve seen far too often. I know its story and am familiar enough with it to have recognized the reference when Satoshi Kon quoted from it in Paprika (2006). But have I actually sat down a watched it in the last 40 years or so? No. And why? Well, it’s partly that I’ve never entirely warmed to Gregory Peck on the screen and the 1950s are one of my least favorite decades of movies. And there’s the Eddie Albert factor. Who—with even the most concentrated effort—can see him and banish Green Acres from the mind? Certainly not I. But none of these are the central reason.

The fact is that I saw the movie long, long ago on TV in a motel room on a weekend family getaway to St. Augustine, Florida. I don’t know how old I was—11 is my guess. I suspect it was on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies because it premiered there in 1966 and because the Riverview Motel TVs were limited to whatever could be received via rabbit ears (ask your parents or grandparents) so it would have had to have been one of the more powerful main stations. I was, in any case, old enough to have been convinced that romantic comedies adhered to certain conventions—most especially that they were supposed to have happy endings where the onscreen lovers ended up together headed toward a lifetime of bliss.

With this in mind, my youthful sensibilities were aghast at the ending of Wyler’s movie. The idea of a bittersweet ending was foreign to me and I felt cheated and even depressed when newspaper reporter Gregory Peck and incognito princess Audrey Hepurn didn’t end up together. I have some slight notion that my father tried to explain why the ending I wanted was improbable to say the least, but I was having none of it. I hated the ending and I didn’t care in the least that the ending of the film was realistic. And I carried a grudge against the movie from that day until two weeks ago when I saw it from beginning to end for the first time in all those years.

The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize that this was the root of my dislike of Roman Holiday until I watched it. I simply remembered that I didn’t like it very much. So here I am watching this movie unfold and being perfectly charmed by just about everything about it. (And that surprises me for another reason, since, however much I admire him for other things, William Wyler is not a filmmaker I generally look to for charm.) Hell, I even liked Gregory Peck, and had no Green Acres moment in watching Eddie Albert. I had, in fact, no significant criticism of the movie, but I particularly liked—yep—the ending, which all these years later strikes me as not only perfect, but more romantic than the ending I wanted as a child.

I was amused to look at the IMDb message boards concerning Roman Holiday and find that people are still being upset by the ending. I would have, of course, agreed with those objecting to it when I was a kid. Now, I find the fact that people would still be arguing about it all these years later a testament to the wisdom of the ending the filmmakers went for.

The experience makes me wonder—and I think this is all to the good—if there might be other films I have a childhood problem with that need another look from an older perspective. It seems unlikely that Roman Holiday is an isolated case, and I know of people who take a dislike to movies or actors for ingrained and even irrational reasons. My paternal grandmother always loathed Richard Widmark because he pushed the old lady in the wheelchair down the stairs in his first movie Kiss of Death (1947). My father nursed a dislike of Casablanca (1942) for 46 years because he didn’t approve of the way the girl he took to see it was dressed! All manner of factors enter into our reasons for liking and disliking something—not all of them related to the thing itself/

My suggestion from this single experience—hopefully the first of several—is simply that you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by giving a movie you’ve disliked for so long that you can’t even remember exactly why another look. It’s only fair. Goodness knows, there are enough movies from childhood that are apt to make you wonder why on earth you ever thought they were good.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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39 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Re-thinking a youthful prejudice

  1. Jim Donato

    Aw, c’mon Ken! It’s patently obvious that “Destroy All Monsters!” is a positively wicked work of towering cinematic genius! After all… it’s got EVERY oversized monster who ever stomped Tokyo in it!!!

  2. Ken Hanke

    It’s patently obvious that “Destroy All Monsters!” is a positively wicked work of towering cinematic genius!

    It’s on my list for reassessment.

  3. Arlene

    Another thought provoking premise, Ken. And I have had just about the same experience with “Roman Holiday”- I saw it probably in my teens. And I knew Eddie Albert from some perfectly acceptable roles-but there was that Green Acres factor. And the ending. I was an uber-romantic kid (believe it or not) who thought governments could topple, but the Princess should have her reporter. A more jaded adult sees it as much more satisfying -a bittersweet and perfect ending.

    Which leads me to wonder what films I need to reassess. I think the majority would be westerns and war films. Which would lead to hours of John Wayne. I am just not about to subject myself to that.

    Perhaps “Destroy All Monsters” would not be a bad place to start.

  4. Who—with even the most concentrated effort—can see him and banish Green Acres from the mind?
    Well, I’ve never had that problem, but then again, I’ve never seen ‘Green Acres’.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Which leads me to wonder what films I need to reassess. I think the majority would be westerns and war films. Which would lead to hours of John Wayne.

    Well, there’s no sense in actually harming yourself.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I’ve never seen ‘Green Acres’.

    It seems unfair to me that the country that inflicted Skippy the Bush Kangaroo on the world should have been spared Green Acres.

  7. It seems unfair to me that the country that inflicted Skippy the Bush Kangaroo on the world should have been spared Green Acres.
    I expect we weren’t, just that it was a little before my time.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I expect we weren’t, just that it was a little before my time.

    So were many things, but that hasn’t kept you from encountering them after the fact. I mean, the Beatles broke up 20 years before you were born.

  9. So were many things, but that hasn’t kept you from encountering them after the fact.
    Yes, but I’ve had to seek out most of those. Plus, I don’t think GREEN ACRES has had quite the lasting cultural impact of The Beatles.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think GREEN ACRES has had quite the lasting cultural impact of The Beatles.

    That may depend on whether or not you consider damage an impact.

  11. DrSerizawa

    I can be hard to overcome prejudice if you aren’t aware that it IS prejudice. The first time I saw “Rocky Horror” I hated it. Later I realized that the reason was that we’d gone double dating and the guy who drove us was driving up the Hollywood Freeway in his Barracuda at about 90mph weaving through traffic and I could hear a rod starting to knock. The thought of being horribly mangled in a wreck on the way home or being stranded with a thrown rod on the way home transferred to the movie experience. I avoided “Rocky” for years until my wife dragged me to a midnight showing thoroughly enjoyed it. Not enough to actually dress like a cast member though.

    Perhaps you would have liked Roman Holiday more as an 11 year old if had ended with a scene like this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0a9EOt6k52U

    I wouldn’t have lasted 10 minutes with “Roman Holiday” when I was 11. I’d have been watching “The Man From Planet X instead.” Very strange behavior for an 11 year old, Ken. We’d better keep a closer eye on you.

    Maybe I’ll re-look at some movies myself. However I doubt that anything will ever change about “Saturn 3” or “Ordinary People”.

  12. Ken Hanke

    Not enough to actually dress like a cast member though.

    Well, there’s still time.

    Perhaps you would have liked Roman Holiday more as an 11 year old if had ended with a scene like this?

    Now, that’s and ending!

    I wouldn’t have lasted 10 minutes with “Roman Holiday” when I was 11. I’d have been watching “The Man From Planet X instead.” Very strange behavior for an 11 year old, Ken. We’d better keep a closer eye on you.

    While you’re an astute judge of character, I should note that The Man from Planet X was not an option on that night. You’re 11 and stuck in a motel room at 9 p.m. with your parents and maybe three TV channels. The options are limited.

    Maybe I’ll re-look at some movies myself. However I doubt that anything will ever change about “Saturn 3” or “Ordinary People”.

    I tried Ordinary People (or Ordinary Picture as Lillian Gish called it at the Oscars) again not too long ago. And I still don’t get the fuss.

  13. brianpaige

    How about a movie where you first sorta liked it but then on 2nd viewing realized it sucked? It’s funny you mention Mark of the Vampire since this was a film I had that exact reaction to. I liked it, but then on 2nd viewing thought it sucked.

    Ride the High Country was a movie that I didn’t really like for some reason the first time I saw it, but on a 2nd viewing I absolutely loved it.

  14. Ken Hanke

    How about a movie where you first sorta liked it but then on 2nd viewing realized it sucked? It’s funny you mention Mark of the Vampire since this was a film I had that exact reaction to. I liked it, but then on 2nd viewing thought it sucked.

    Well, in that instance, I’d say you were right the first time, but I find this particular scenario fairly common. In fact, it’s what I was in reference to with “you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by giving a movie you’ve disliked for so long that you can’t even remember exactly why another look. It’s only fair. Goodness knows, there are enough movies from childhood that are apt to make you wonder why on earth you ever thought they were good.” Of course, there’s a simple reason it’s more common — you’re more likely to rewatch a movie you liked than one you didn’t. Unless, of course, it’s like me with 2001, which I try again every few years to see if I find it any less boring. That’s been going on for 42 years now and it hasn’t happened yet.

  15. Arlene

    < <>>

    That is fairly much my assessment.
    Perhaps I could revisit some of the Toho ouerve.

  16. Ken Hanke

    That is fairly much my assessment.
    Perhaps I could revisit some of the Toho ouerve.

    From my perspective what you will find is that both the text and subtext are much more interesting than you thought and the special effects (original Godzilla to one side) are even quainter than you remember.

  17. brianpaige

    2001 is a film best enjoyed on its first viewing, at least I think so. I thought it was fascinating the first time, but on subsequent viewings it just got dull. Too much floating in space and the actual lead characters don’t get into it until an hour in.

    Vertigo is another film like that with me. Liked it a lot the first time, 2nd time a lot of it was FF material.

  18. TigerShark

    Perhaps you should re-assess Green Acres?

    Seems to me Albert’s role in Green Acres should prove what a good actor he was – take for example his villainous turn in Columbo. His role in Switch was also pretty enjoyable.

  19. Ken Hanke

    2001 is a film best enjoyed on its first viewing, at least I think so

    In which case, I’d be screwed. It alternately baffled and bored me when it was new (I was 13 or 14) and it’s been boring me ever since. However, a lot of people I respect think highly of it, so I try it every so often to see if either it, or I have changed.

    Vertigo is another film like that with me. Liked it a lot the first time, 2nd time a lot of it was FF material

    I don’t believe in “FF material.” I either watch a film or I turn it off. Oddly enough, Vertigo was another NBC Saturday Night at the Movies offering that I saw in, yes, St. Augustine (I believe it was the year before). It must have mostly gone over my head at the time. As an adult, I’ve always found it overrated, but I find most of Hitchcock’s 50s work overrated.

  20. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps you should re-assess Green Acres?

    No, I don’t think that will be necessary.

  21. J Drew

    “Which would lead to hours of John Wayne.”

    Perhaps it is time for Charles Bronson to get what he always deserved? I remember seeing Death Hunt years ago and hating it (‘so boring!’), but now I love it. Don’t know exactly why, but perhaps reading Jack London did it.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps it is time for Charles Bronson to get what he always deserved?

    But have you determined what that is?

  23. J Drew

    I just wikipedia’d and saw just how many movies the man did so, no, I can’t determine that. But you can’t argue that he was far better then John Wayne and, at times, even a good actor.

  24. It alternately baffled and bored me when it was new (I was 13 or 14) and it’s been boring me ever since. However, a lot of people I respect think highly of it, so I try it every so often to see if either it, or I have changed.

    That’s a pretty good description of my relationship with MOULIN ROUGE.

  25. Ken Hanke

    That’s a pretty good description of my relationship with MOULIN ROUGE.

    I can imagine — though not agree with — all manner of negative reactions, but not boredom.

  26. DrSerizawa

    Unless, of course, it’s like me with 2001, which I try again every few years to see if I find it any less boring.

    Okay, I’ll stick my oar in on 2001. To me 2001 was impressive mainly because it raised the bar for special effects. Aside from a few decent Scifi movies like Forbidden Planet and some Harryhausen work most SciFi movies had really laughable effects that seemed to get even worse in the 60s than the 50s. Suddenly Kubrik gives fans a SciFi movie with believable effects. I think that’s what impressed me about it.

    I fully understand how boring it is for most people. But, like you commented a few weeks back about impressions from one’s youth coloring their opinions (I was 20 when it came out but didn’t see it until I came back from southeast Asia in 1970) it was so much better than what came before visually that I will still sit and watch it when it happens to come on. I know I should be bored, but I’m not.

    I also helps to have seen it in Cinerama. The movie’s main fault IMHO is that too much is left up to the imagination. If one reads Aurthur Clarke’s novel it explains what that ending really means. However a movie is supposed to stand alone and not have to rely on the patrons having read some book.

  27. Dread P. Roberts

    Which leads me to wonder what films I need to reassess. I think the majority would be westerns and war films. Which would lead to hours of John Wayne.

    That’s pretty much where I fit in as well, though I have no intent of spending an evening with Mr. Wayne anytime soon (the horror, the horror). My dad, and grandfather, have always been big on westerns, so I was often stuck with either watching them on the tube, or not watching anything – which is what I usually ended up doing after 15-20 minutes of Wayne. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I hate the guy – or that there’s anything wrong with him, for that matter – but I just never felt like I was going to get anything more out of most of his westerns, past the 20 min. mark.

    However, there are exceptions. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly comes to mind as a movie that I recall being bored with, and disliking as a youngster. But upon reassessing, I find that I’m rather impressed with Sergio Leone’s direction, the scenery, and the film’s iconic musical score. I’m inclined to think that the problem as a kid was that all westerns just kind of blurred into one big obscure movie for me. (And they sometimes still do to a certain extent.)

  28. Ken Hanke

    I fully understand how boring it is for most people. But, like you commented a few weeks back about impressions from one’s youth coloring their opinions (I was 20 when it came out but didn’t see it until I came back from southeast Asia in 1970) it was so much better than what came before visually that I will still sit and watch it when it happens to come on. I know I should be bored, but I’m not.

    Thing is I so would like not to be bored by it, but I always am — dating back to seeing it in 1968 when it filtered down to Lake Wales FL that summer. I would have been 13 — and I would expect it to bore a 13 year old. I’ve seen it lots of times since then and I largely remain bored, though I like it better in the latter portions when it becomes more and more abstract.

    The movie’s main fault IMHO is that too much is left up to the imagination.

    I don’t think that’s my problem with it, since the stranger it gets and the more inexplicable, the better I like it.

  29. Ken Hanke

    I have no intent of spending an evening with Mr. Wayne anytime soon (the horror, the horror).

    I think the only Wayne movie I own is John Ford’s Donovan’s Reef (1963), which may be a holdover from childhood, because the State Theater seemed to run it every few months. (I know the owner somehow owned several Wayne movies that he used for filler if a movie didn’t show up, which may explain this.) But I do like the movie, though less for Wayne than the rest of the cast and its underlying anti-racism theme.

    My dad, and grandfather, have always been big on westerns, so I was often stuck with either watching them on the tube, or not watching anything

    Being a good bit older than you my westerns experience is a little different. I’m old enough to remember when TV was flooded with all manner of reasonably crappy half hour westerns. Even as a very young child these didn’t seem very good to me somehow, and I think they contributed to my inability to take the genre very seriously. It always seemed a little like kids dressing up and playing cowboys and Indians. Not sure I’ve ever quite shaken that.

  30. Steve

    Even as a very young child these didn’t seem very good to me somehow, and I think they contributed to my inability to take the genre very seriously.

    The only Western I’ve ever enjoyed was Johnny Guitar. And (a) I suppose a compelling argument could be made that JG isn’t a true Western, and (b) I’m not sure that kitch value counts – the first time I saw it I thought it was pretty awful.

  31. Lady L

    I recently re-visted Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”. The first time I saw it I was left totally cold. I sat through the entire movie and at the end I thought, “Well, what the hell was that?” After seeing Rushmore at the Asheville Film Society’s screening and really liking it I thought I would give Tenenbaums another try and this time I was floored. Somehow, everything came together and I was completely drawn into the story. I think the problem came from expecting a comedy (and I can’t remember if that’s because it was marketed as one or if it was just a characterization that I arbitrarily labeled it with). Though there are parts of Tenenbaums that are very funny, there’s also a huge amount of sadness and regret, and bittersweet-ness (if that’s a word) that pushes it farther than I was willing to go the first time I saw it. Sometimes it pays to sit down with a film and give it another go. I suppose that means Steve Zissou is next.

  32. Ken Hanke

    And (a) I suppose a compelling argument could be made that JG isn’t a true Western, and (b) I’m not sure that kitch value counts

    Considering my favorite western is Son of Paleface, I am in no position to judge.

  33. Ken Hanke

    Though there are parts of Tenenbaums that are very funny, there’s also a huge amount of sadness and regret, and bittersweet-ness (if that’s a word) that pushes it farther than I was willing to go the first time I saw it. Sometimes it pays to sit down with a film and give it another go. I suppose that means Steve Zissou is next.

    There’s an undercurrent of sadness in all of Anderson’s work — even a sense of tragedy — and that, I think, is what makes him a much more important figure in current film than is often assumed.

  34. Jessamyn

    One of the best things about Roman Holiday is that they take so much time for the ending. It wouldn’t work if there were just a brief moment of noble sacrifice and the music came up. Hepburn and Peck have a whole conversation with each other, between the lines, in front of everybody else, and say what they need to say to each other. I hate stories with noble sacrifices where there’s lots of suffering in silence, but here they are two adults who understand each other.

  35. Fran

    As it happens, I just saw Mark of the Vampire a couple of nights ago. I actually was frustrated by the most of the movie and how cheesy the vampires seemed to me. When I was surprised by the end (I had totally forgotten the end…I probably saw this 35 years ago and didn’t remember the way it ended, didn’t connect this movie to a movie that had a surprise ending) it turned everything around and I suddenly loved the movie. This has nothing to do with the actual “topic” of the article, but it was an interesting timing.

    I also had a vague memory about Roman Holiday… it was something like a combination of being enamored but I don’t want to watch it…I suspect for the reason of the way it ends…I don’t remember. So I may take another look.

    I’m trying to remember a movie that comes under the actual category discussed. I wonder what I would think of Gone with the Wind if I watched it today.

  36. Ken Hanke

    I probably saw this 35 years ago and didn’t remember the way it ended

    You’d have seen it earlier if someone hadn’t sent the wrong movie to that artsy suburb of Clearwater where we saw The Devil Doll (the movie they sent instead).

    This has nothing to do with the actual “topic” of the article, but it was an interesting timing.

    Maybe it’s off-topic, but it’s an interesting response and not a typical one.

    I wonder what I would think of Gone with the Wind if I watched it today.

    That it’s really long.

  37. ” I wonder what I would think of Gone with the Wind if I watched it today.

    That it’s really long. “

    And it has some great lines

    “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
    (Clark Gable, Gone With the Wind (1939)

    Rhett Butler:” With enough courage, you can do without a reputation. ”

    Prissy: “Lawzy, we got to have a doctor. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” & “I don’t know what makes me lie like that”

    Scarlett: “After all… tomorrow is another day.”

    Rhett Butler: “Don’t give yourself airs, Scarlett.”

  38. Ken Hanke

    And it has some great lines

    But those lines are encased in four hours of soap about two people who never want each other at the same time.

  39. Nick Jones

    I was thirteen when I saw 2001 in 1968, and I loved it – I was even explaining it to confused adults coming out of the theater. About three years ago, when I was living in a boarding house, the Stargate sequence was playing on TV in the communal living room, and I was muttering under my breath, “Get ON with it, already!”. Subsequently, I began to quip that 2001 is the film where Kubrick confused the words “profound” and “ponderous”.

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