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Watching Cary Grant on TCM defined my childhood — here’s why you should watch classic movies, too

By Scottie Andrew, CNN

(CNN) — Editor’s Note: Call them passions. Call them obsessions. These are the unique things CNN staffers can’t imagine our lives without. We share our raves and loves, whether it’s an object, place, experience or a niche interest topic we are passionate about. You don’t have to take our recommendations, but they just might change your life. Previously, we extolled the virtues of bird feeders.

May I Recommend … a classic movie marathon

No actor has opened a door with a deeper commitment to utter silliness than the great Cary Grant in “Bringing Up Baby.”

In one of the film’s funniest scenes, Grant, a rankled paleontologist, is resigned to wearing a froufrou robe after a besotted heiress (played by the inimitable Katherine Hepburn) takes his clothes to be pressed. He’s rattling off complaints when, ever the gentleman, he pauses to answer a caller at the front door who turns out to be the heiress’ snooty aunt.

“Why are you wearing these clothes?” she asks.

“Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!” he exclaims, leaping into the air. (Whatever Grant meant to convey with the term, it’s still an iconic moment in the film.)

It’s with that little leap in the doorway that I and countless other movie lovers fell hard and fast for the silver screen legend. But if it weren’t for Turner Classic Movies, I may never have discovered one of Hollywood’s all-time greats.

Despite its legacy as one of Grant’s greatest vehicles, “Bringing Up Baby” was a box office failure, panned by critics who didn’t buy the farfetched story filled with leopard encounters, dinosaur bone-stealing dogs and mile-a-minute pratfalls. The 1939 film was buried by its studio, RKO, until TV stations gave it a new life in the late 1950s, per TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, who helpfully contextualizes each film before and after it airs with insightful introductions and discussions.

When TCM hit the airwaves in 1994, “Bringing Up Baby” found a regular broadcast home. Now, the film is a dependable staple on the network, which shares parent company Warner Bros. Discovery with CNN.

While the ever-growing array of streaming services provide us with more content than we could watch in a hundred lifetimes, I’ve found you just can’t beat a date with one of the classics.

I grew up on TCM, which turns 30 this month. (I’m nearly 27, and I’ve been watching TCM for almost as long.) When I wasn’t watching Disney Channel, I was tuning into Grant-led gems like “The Philadelphia Story” or Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

The children’s series of my youth, like “Sesame Street” and “Doug,” were shot in vivid hues. But, when my parents had control of the TV remote at night, I surreptitiously camped out behind the couch to see what they were viewing. More often than not, it was a black-and-white movie on TCM.

Current TCM host Alicia Malone told me she was drawn to the network for comfort. When she moved from Australia to the States, it became her favorite channel: Classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood are classics the world over, she said, and “seeing the familiar old Hollywood films I’ve loved since childhood made me feel less homesick.”

My viewership turned me into a budding cinephile and aspiring reporter, not unlike those played by Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday.”

After watching the network for the better part of two decades, it’s even affected the way I speak: I’m not above throwing in a random Transatlantic accent or the patter of a screwball leading lady in the middle of a sentence. My TCM viewership is certainly the reason why I turn into Irene Dunne in “Life With Father” whenever I run into a wrinkly pug in the park (“the pug dog!”) and why, whenever I’m introduced to someone, I choke back the urge to respond, “Mutual I’m sure in the style of the ditsy showgirl in “White Christmas.”

Watching a marathon of TCM taught me about the way Hollywood and our world changed in the 20th century. Films made before the Hays Code — which in 1934 required studio films to adhere to strict morality guidelines — were bawdy, graphic and uninhibited.

To work around the strict rules of the Hays Code, wily writers created screwball comedies that prodded the upper class — a major draw for audiences in the years following the Great Depression — and made smart use of innuendo. Today’s rom coms still follow many of the same beats screwball comedies perfected, even if their leads can end up in bed together without causing a moral panic.

The network has preserved the American film canon by regularly showing classics like “Meet Me In St. Louis,” but it’s expanded my personal canon with less mainstream choices, too. I grew up hooked on the melodrama “Penny Serenade,” which curiously hinges on the deaths of children, and the Technicolor musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” which involves a family of woodsmen kidnapping women and forcibly wedding them. (While the plot description sounds dodgier with every passing year, one has to admit it has some of the finest dance sequences ever filmed).

On TCM, I could depend on primers on Esther Williams’ synchronized swimming fantasias and marathons of classic films starring dogs. This included Skippy the wire fox terrier, a hardworking canine actor with impeccable timing, known best for his role as Asta in Nick and Nora films. (He, too, starred in “Bringing Up Baby,” as Hepburn’s bone-nabbing pet.)

I’ve appreciated TCM’s willingness to continue airing challenging or rare films, like silent pictures, as well as films whose impact is indelible but whose taste is offensive, like “Gone With the Wind.” The Oscar winner is now frequently introduced with a discussion about the racism it depicts and the off-screen challenges faced by its costar Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for her role as the enslaved Mammy but wasn’t allowed to sit with her white cast at the segregated ceremony.

And 30 years later, TCM still surprises. I was delighted by its recent airing of “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” featuring the late Paul Reubens as a bow-tied man-child on a cross-country search for his beloved bike.

TCM is what I watch when I visit my parents in Florida; in fact, it’s the reason they still have cable at all. It’s what introduced me to Grant and Hepburn and their contemporaries, the films that would change the industry and those I consider my favorites. And whether you’re a hardcore cinephile or curious student, you’ll find something to love, or at least critically consider, on its schedule.

If you can’t take my word for it, here’s another word from Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, who now contributes programming and guidance to the network along with fellow auteurs Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson.

“I won’t stay in a hotel if it doesn’t have TCM,” he said in 2018 while accepting an award named for the late TCM host Robert Osborne.

And if it’s good enough for Marty, it’s good enough for me — and maybe you, too.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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