POSTED February 16 2013

Which movie seen in childhood was, upon adult viewing, the biggest shock?

Hermione Gingold, Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron in "Gigi."

Hermione Gingold, Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron in

When I was five or six, my parents took my sisters and me to see Gigi at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I loved it, especially Leslie Caron, who was like Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeleine come to life. I loved how Caron’s Gigi rolled her eyes at her elders who tried to teach her how to cut an ortolan and use her manners. I loved the music, perhaps because afterwards Dad warbled “Thank Heavens for Little Girls,” which made me feel special. I loved the color, because really, is anything as eye-popping as the scarlets and yellows in a Vincente Minnelli movie? (The film was produced after the demise of Technicolor, but the Eastmancolor was…scintillating.)

Most of all, I loved how the awkward,  duckling-like Caron is transformed to a creature who swans around Paris at the finale.

Flashforward, 15 years later: I am driving down the Pacific Coast Highway on my way to college, AM radio blaring show-tunes. Maurice Chevalier is singing  “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” I sing along, replaying the movie in my mind. I barely avoid an accident when I realize that what I remember as a wholesome, coming-of-age tale of an Ugly Duckling’s transformation is a satiric story about a courtesan who defies family tradition by holding out for marriage.  I wrote about the ramifications of that experience here. Only Minnelli could have made a G-rated movie out of a saucy Colette satire.

Have you had a similar experience? Which movie seen in childhood was the biggest shock to you when you considered its deeper meaning as an adult?


  1. Quora says:

    Which movie seen in your childhood was the biggest shock to you when you saw it as an adult?…

    Did the meaning of the film change? Example:

  2. I’ve been trying desperately for awhile to think of a movie I saw as a child that shocked me when re-watching it as an adult but for the life of me, I’m drawing a blank. I can think of movies I saw when I was young that I didn’t appreciate until I was older and films that I saw once I was grown that I revisited a few years later and wondered, “What was I thinking when I liked this?” However, I definitely recall TV shows I thought were riots as a youngster that I find embarrassing now. I can’t believe that I liked “Welcome Back Kotter.” What a terrible show that was but in grade school, it made me laugh and laugh and laugh. The closest movie I can think of is “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” which I worshipped as a 2nd grader, re-creating the ending with Fisher-Price Adventure People and a Tonka fire engine. The bloated comedy still holds a soft spot in my heart and I don’t think it’s a bad movie, but I do admit that it’s a bit of overkill to try to stretch a comedy to that massive a length. However, it’s great cast more than makes up for it and if I run across it on TV, I’ll still watch it — just not from beginning to end.

  3. Miz Val says:

    It has to be The Wizard Of Oz .. I did learned the hard way you don’t have to go any further than your own backyard because there is no place like home

  4. I was traumatized by seeing “Freaks” at the age of nine, and when I resaw it as an adult I was able to understand better the nature of what had traumatized me–the switching back and forth in the film’s own viewpoint between seeing the freaks with tenderness and affection as innocents and seeing them as frightening and threatening monsters.

    To overstate things, I think most of the Hollywood movies that I saw as a kid were seen by me as innocent rather than corrupt emotional expressions of one kind or another, and my diverse understandings of the corruptions involved came only later And I’m sorry to say that something resembling my delusions as a kid are held by many adults today confronting the corrupted (or, perhaps even more common, confused–albeit confused for corrupted commercial reasons, as in Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty or Django Unchained) emotional appeals of movies, including most of the Oscar contenders. What could be more “innocently” corrupt than, for instance, the Oscar-winning treatment of Vietcong soldiers as Ming the Merciless sadists corrupting the spotless innocence of American youth? Or of the compulsive revenge fantasies that fuel a good many of our more recent misinformed misadventures abroad?

  5. Lorraine says:

    For me, it would’ve been “The Producers” (1968), with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder – I thought Mr. Mostel was just so funny play-acting with those little old ladies, and I didn’t think much at all about their secretary’s ‘other duties’, because I was only 13 at the time, and didn’t have a clue. I hadn’t seen it in ages by the time I considered showing it to my grade 7 class for a ‘Classic Cinema’ English assignment – I felt rather uncomfortable watching it, imagined what some of the kids’ parents might say if they happened to hear about it around the dinner table…naaaahhhh. Instead, I chose “Planet of the Apes”, which was just racy enough to hold the boys’ attention.

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