Familiarity and comfort movies

(A repost from November, 2010.)

A friend of mine went to visit some friends in Edmonton a few months ago. When she returned, I asked her what she had done. “Nothing,” she said.

A deliberately grizzled Cary Grant - star of Father Goose (1964).
A deliberately grizzled Cary Grant - star of Father Goose (1964).

“Did you go anywhere?”


“Did you at least go to that restaurant I told you about?”

“No; there wasn’t time.”

She had been there for over a week. Yet all she had done was spend time with her friends.

That’s what some comfort movies are.

Many years ago when the marathon-like M*A*S*H was finally ending its time on television, someone made the observation that few people had watched it because they were eager to see the next episode. They weren’t wondering what would happen next. They were watching simply because they wanted to spend time with the characters they had come to know so well.

That is what some comfort movies do. Many of the John Wayne movies are like this. They may have drama or comedy but many people watch them simply to spend time with their idea of John Wayne and the characters associated with him.

This particularly comes across in his later movies, like Hatari! or Donovan’s Reef, or even an earlier movie like The Quiet Man. Their merits as films aside, people watch to see the Duke and the actors/characters associated with him, like Maureen O’Hara. There is a sense of knowing them, of a personal relationship, though we know that couldn’t possibly be true – we’ve never even met them! Yet we feel that way.

So it strikes me that a characteristic of comfort movies is familiarity. We revisit certain movies in the same way we revisit certain friends and family. Familiarity. We enjoy spending time with them. This is why they are comfort movies.

Although it’s not the movie I’d like to start off with (it’s a bit misleading as far as what I consider a comfort movie to be), my favourite movie as far as this category goes is Father Goose.

Gasp! Am I nuts? Possibly. But for me this movie is as comfortable as old slippers. And that may be a good analogy because this movie is probably just as fashionable. Besides, it stars the always familiar Cary Grant, whom many simply like to watch. In anything.

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