Today, August 4th, would have been my grandmother Antoinette’s 92nd birthday. Sadly she passed away 4 years ago, but she’s always in my memories because she was such an influence on me. When my parents went splitsville I was 7 years old, and my mother took us to Grandma’s; we lived with or practically next door to her for the next ten years. She was a strong unforgettable woman, and she loved the movies as much as anyone of her generation, where they were the 5 cent relief from the malaise of the Depression years.
The last movie I remember seeing with Grams in theaters was 2001’s In the Bedroom, where Tom Wilkinson becomes the unlikely lead in what is essentially a well disguised revenge picture. To my grandmother, it was a movie where a real son of a bitch got what was coming to him, and she loved that kind of movie! Another recent favorite, not uncommon among her generation, was The Shawshank Redemption. Andy and Red’s story, while updated for modern sensibilities, really does feel like an old movie, doesn’t it? If you took out the prison rape and the cussing, made it black and white and a few things here and there, it might have come from the ’40s. It could definitely be the kind of movie you’d go see on your weekly trips to the theater, collecting a set of free plates, as the big movie houses used to give out back then. I think we still have the set she collected back in the day.
Another movie we saw in theaters was Presumed Innocent, the “get away with murder” type of film. Her all time favorite of this sub-genre was the “Alfred Hitchock Presents” adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic yarn, “Lamb to the Slaughter.” That’s the one where a husband is bludgeoned to death, and the police are having the darnedest time finding the murder weapon. It ends with the wife serving them a leg of lamb for dinner, and you can guess from the title that she knocked hubby’s brains in with it before it was thawed! Grams got a kick out of that. I wonder if my grandfather- who I called “Abby” because he used to say “Yabba Dabba Do!” to me as a kid, with his cigar waggling between his teeth- was ever in danger of being clobbered one night? She was as big a fan of Hitchcock as anyone, and I probably got my love of Shadow of a Doubt from her and my mother.
As for classics, one of her faves was Tales of Manhattan (which I reviewed here). My mother says “she liked ugly guys. Like Karl Malden.” Sorry, Karl! May you rest in peace. She watched him on TV, probably in “The Streets of San Francisco,” which ran for 120 episodes in the ’70s but seems largely forgotten today. Claude Rains was a favorite because of his oily charms as Captain Renault. He was also in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and she probably got this from my uncle, but I remember a lot of movies where Death was personified being popular at dinner table discussion. My Uncle Paul’s favorite is On Borrowed Time, where Lionel Barrymore traps death in a tree outside his house. Don’t ask how! It’s one of those unimaginable fairy tale movies and Turner Classics replays it now and then- I keep waiting for it to play again instead of just renting it to review. Bette Davis was a favorite. She had class and sass. “Buckle your seatbelts,” indeed. Rains was in Now, Voyager too, as well as Paul Heinreid, another favorite. He was in Casablanca with Rains but also in Between Two Worlds, another film that shows people on a ship to the afterlife.
She was a great woman who taught me confidence, resilience and a sense of humor about life. My sister inherited her meticulous cleaning skills, which must be passed with the X chromosome because I sure don’t have it. She did let me drive my grandfather’s ’73 Mustang V8, which turned into a 20 year obsession. I recently switched to a Mini Cooper S, but there’ll always be space in my garage for classic ‘stang. I had a ’65 ragtop in college- bought on my own dime- but her garish Bright Green Metallic monster was the first one I ever drove. She had it into the ’90s, and I think it matched her spirit. Her trips all over the U.S. in her retirement years inspired me to do the same, and I take road trips whenever I can.