Every so often I get a notion to investigate the world of old movies to see what I’ve missed and is still worth watching in my advancing years. Helping me in this cultural pursuit this time around is the British film critic David Thomson’s magnificent tribute to goldie oldies, “Great Moments in the Movies”. After a few hours of perusing it, I settled on four titles to watch this past week: North by Northwest, White Heat, The Night of the Hunter, and Anatomy of Murder. To say the least, these four gems encapsulate all that makes for rivetting movie watching from an earlier time. Lots of suspense, chill, interesting camera angles, clues, excellent type casting, innovation, strange twists and surprise endings. What this experience has taught me, once again, is that there is more to watching a movie than just absorbing the plot and identifying with one’s favorite actor or actress. To make the film come alive, it is the director who shapes the specific medium – film noir, docudrama, psycho-thriller, drama, mystery – to fit or meet the wide viewing interests of audiences across time and space. In three of these movies – the fourth one to be watched tonight – I was treated to acting that made the story come alive in a very unique way as to be actually taken in by the most disarming of acts performed by masterful manipulators of the truth. Only after my wife and I sat down to do a post-mortem on each of them did it occur that each movie contained a critical element of moral ambivalence that demands prompt clarification. In North by Northwest, Hitchcock creates a monumental crisis in his hero’s life where there is no longer a moral compass by which to run his rather ordinary existence. Out of the extraordinary chain of fast paced events that distills a critical moment comes a defining, almost absurd, time which the director reserves for near the end in the most public of places: Washington’s face on Mt. Rushmore. A similar moment of truth comes in Agee’s The Night of the Hunter when the young boy throws his younger sisters rag-doll at the police as they arrest their tormentor and their mother’s killer. As the toy breaks open and thousands of dollars spill out on the floor, I suddenly realize that the movie was never meant to be just another nasty tale involving Robert Mitchum’s portrayal of human depravity. The young lad and his sister have finally been liberated from the fear of carrying around their dead father’s secret. At that point, the film literally turns from night to day, as the children enter into a loving relationship where family means being loved and cared for, a major focus in much of Agee’s writings. Then, there is my favorite, Anatomy of Murder, which is so full of creative subtleties that the viewer might feel excused in being misdirected or tricked by the fact that its cast of stars are at times not enlightened. The only reality in this masterpiece is that truth itself, as embodied in the American judicial system, is being seriously manipulated by those it is meant to protect: the accused. As I watched it, I knew something bad was happening, but I couldn’t put my finger on it till the end. That, my friends, is what makes for a monumental movie, if all the other pieces are in place. Maybe that is why I am having a hard time these days finding a good movie to go and watch that contains that critical point of resolution.