When my friends and I were in the seventh and eighth grades, we generally went to the movies once or twice a week on either Saturday or Sunday.
In the summer, we tried to work in a weekday matinee, but that required getting permission from our mothers, and depended too on how many chores we had to complete before going anywhere.
War movies held a special fascination for us.
Richie Schue’s dad liked war movies as well, and he owned two silent films dealing with World War I — Dawn Patrol and All Quiet on the Western Front. I saw both of these films at Richie’s house when I was 12.
Dawn Patrol made a deep impression on me.
The drama came at the end of the film when the hero had not returned from a dawn mission across German lines, and his comrades scanned the sky for his plane to return as a German pilot flew over the airfield.
The pilot tossed the hero’s helmet and scarf out of his plane and then buzzed the airfield as the helmet and scarf spiraled toward earth.
Banking slightly, the pilot gave a farewell salute to the men on the ground.
I got the impression that pilots followed a code of chivalry and were truly knights of the sky.
A very different impression was left by All Quiet on the Western Front.
This film was very realistic, not only in its portrayal of the horrors of trench warfare but in the humanizing portrait of German soldiers, whom I had believed were heartless brutes.
When my friend Eddie and I saw the film, we were rather shaken by the ending when the young German soldier reached out from his position to pick a lone flower growing on the edge of his trench and was spotted by a sniper who shot and killed him.
Many of my pals were great fans of westerns. From today’s perspective, these films seem mild.
The westerns we viewed were like playing cowboys, we thought. Even in the fist fights, the cowboy would merely get his hat knocked off, fall down, then get up quickly to resume the brief battle.
Violence was limited, with minimal blood and only a hint at base evil.
As at home and school, obscenity was absent, as of course was any reference to sex.
In the cowboy movies we watched in those long-ago days, even when the hero and the heroine leaned toward each other for a little kiss at the end of the film, the hero’s horse would sometimes nose his way between the couple, preventing any display of affection.
What is surprising is that the writers and directors of these older movies managed to deal sensitively with the same elements of human behavior that concern the writers and directors of today, even though they worked under strict constraints.
I’m still a fan of movies, but in recent years I have broadened the scope of the movies I watch. My favorites are comedies and musicals.
It has been many years since I have watched a war movie, but never let it be said that I would miss seeing a good western.