When you reach a certain age — in fact, before you reach "a certain age," during pit stops all along the way, from maybe 25 or 30 forward — you begin to lose touch with current pop culture.
Maybe you're going to college, starting to raise kids, working long hours to get ahead in your chosen field, working part-time jobs to make ends meet — and before you know it, real life has crowded out all that recreational time you used to spend reading books, listening to music, keeping up with your favorite team, and watching TV shows and movies.
I can remember grocery shopping with a couple of my teenagers back in the day, and after overhearing a pair of cashiers talking about current bands, my kids had to explain to me who these bands were and what kind of music they played.
You know you're old when you still think of Elvis and the Beatles as "classic rock," but when you listen to a classic-rock radio station all you hear are songs that your own children were into when they were growing up.
So what is 1950s and '60s music today, "dinosaur rock"?
Anyway, I began thinking about all this after an encounter last week at a local entertainment store while perusing shelves that were filled with alphabetized TV series on DVD. I was looking for "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season 5," which had just come out. I saw lots of "Alf" (remember that orange alien hand puppet?) but no "Alfred."
As I'm giving up, a young 20-something clerk approaches me and identifies himself as the one in charge of the store's inventory of TV shows. "What are you looking for?" he asks. I tell him. "What's that again?"
So I repeat the title: "'Alfred Hitchcock Presents,' an old anthology show that Alfred Hitchcock hosted."
Then he asks the question that cuts to the bone: "Alfred who?"
"Alfred Hitchcock. You know, the guy who made 'Vertigo' and 'Strangers on a Train.'" (Apparently it's too much information.) "OK, how about this one — 'Psycho'!"
He mulls this for a moment. "Oh, I think I've heard of 'Psycho.' But not that Alfred guy."
I was tempted to ask if he knew the names James Stewart or Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn … but then I realized I was talking to someone who probably considers Adam Sandler and Sandra Bullock over the hill.
But then, putting it into perspective, why should this young fellow know who Alfred Hitchcock is? After all, Hitch died more than 30 years ago. His last film came out in 1976. And what is arguably his last classic film, "The Birds," came out in 1963!
When I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s, Hitchcock had just gotten his second wind and was churning out a remarkable string of films that were popular at the time and are now considered what Turner Classic Movies calls "essentials": "Strangers on a Train," "Rear Window," "Vertigo," "North By Northwest," "Psycho" and "The Birds" — along with many others that are perhaps less essential but still awfully good.
Of course, one generation's "essential" is another generation's "antiquated."
When I was young, before learning more about movies and movie history, I didn't pay attention to the names of any other revered directors who were active during this period — John Ford, Howard Hawks, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, etc. But I knew Hitchcock. And not because his name was always above the titles or because of his quick little cameo appearance in each of his pictures.
I knew Hitchcock because of the black-and-white murder-mystery series he hosted on television. Each week's episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" was introduced with a wry, deadpan, very dark sense of humor by the Master of Suspense himself before unraveling a story of murder that would string the viewer along for 25 minutes or so — then pull out the rug with a twist ending. And even that ending was sometimes given one last twist of the knife by Hitchcock's closing remarks.
The half-hour show ran seven years, from 1955-62, then expanded to "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," running another three years. (The first five seasons of the half-hour show are on DVD now and episodes from both shows can be viewed free on Hulu.)
And for my money, both are right up there with "The Twilight Zone" as TV classics that generally hold up well today. Many of the "Hitchcock" episodes remain clever and witty and surprising.
As is so often the case, when I stopped looking for the fifth season of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," I found it. But it wasn't at f.y.e. or Best Buy or Graywhale or any of the usual suspects. I went to Barnes & Noble looking for a book, saw the store's DVD section and as an afterthought went browsing. And there it was.
That's right, the DVD set was in a bookstore.
That's another interesting thing about how much the world has changed. You can now buy groceries at variety stores, restaurant gift cards at grocery stores and DVDs at bookstores.
Anyway, I was pleased to discover the set contains a lot of memorable episodes, including a pair of justly famous classics: "Man From the South," which has Peter Lorre manipulating Steve McQueen into a painfully ghoulish Las Vegas wager, and "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," about a Civil War saboteur who seems to escape hanging through a quirk of fate, with James Coburn in a small role (and which preceded the "Twilight Zone" version of the same story by four years).
In addition to McQueen and Coburn, the set features many more young guest stars quite familiar to baby boomers: Dick Van Dyke, Suzanne Pleshette, Walter Matthau, Anne Francis, William Shatner, Burt Reynolds, Richard Chamberlain, Stella Stevens and many others.
And by the way, isn't that a great phrase that opened this column, about reaching "a certain age"?
Feel free to go back and insert "old fogey" or "fuddy-duddy" or "geezer" — or whatever term is more up-to-date when referring to my generation.
I'd do it myself but I'm just too old to know what that might be.
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