Screen smoking better than toilet humor

Greenwich Time

Posted: 08/07/2009 04:52:20 PM EDT

As an admirer and victim of the Turner Classic Movies station that features late night vintage movies sans commercial interventions, I enjoy observing behavioral patterns that now seem archaic.

Take smoking. Old films are clouded with smoke, cigarettes, pipes, cigars. Vamps and villains, heroes and heretics, gangsters and ghouls, geezers and kids — smoking ruled. We took it for granted then. Today, the producers would be carted off to jail.

People whistled a lot, to express relief, like expressing “Whew!” Apaches and troopers whistled from the dark bushes as encoded attack signals. The nonchalant person trilling a tune while passing the cemetery. The explosive “Wow” whistle of the wolf spying a zaftig lady. A singing star, breaking into whistled arpeggios to enhance his vocal offering to Jeanette MacDonald.

Today, you rarely if ever hear anyone whistling. Went out with smoking, it seems. No more, “Hand me a cigarette, you big lug you.” Or the dying soldier’s, “Gotta fag, mate?”

As a one-time pipe-smoker, I envied the guys with their pipes. Donald Crisp or Edward G. Robinson could light a briar with one match and immediately start puffing without pause on the pipe. This baffled me, for as any real-life pipe aficionado knows, the most-experienced of the lot will use up at least a few boxes of matches to keep the thing going and may even pause occasionally to ream out the clogged stem. Not Sherlock Holmes or Walter Pidgeon. I always wondered what was mixed into the tobacco to keep the pipe puffing happily along.

Compared with today’s hyper-violent films, what passed for mayhem in the oldies was pretty tame stuff. I don’t recall any showing the gratuitous body-carving, torture, graphic dissection of body parts, blood-spewing scenes that have become standard film fare.

And as far as graphic displays in toilet action, there’s no comparison. I’m not enough of a screen buff to know when the transition occurred but in most of the occasional current films I waste my eyes on, it seems there’s a mandate to include scenes involving bodily functions. Vomiting is endemic in these flicks.

I’ll take whistling and smoking any day.

Bernie Yudain is a former managing editor of Greenwich Time. His e-mail address is bernardct6@aol.com.

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