Thoughts of the Fourth of July conjure up more memories of fireworks and backyard barbeques than movies for most of us, but films can still put a powerful exclamation point on America’s annual birthday celebration.
“No saint, no pope, no general, no sultan, has ever had the power that a filmmaker has; the power to talk to hundreds of millions of people for two hours in the dark,” observed the legendary movie producer and director Frank Capra.
As we approach the 246th birthday of America’s independence from Great Britain this coming Monday, here are five films to watch:
1.Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:Speaking of Frank Capra, this 1939 classic might seem incredibly relevant and timely in 2022. The legendary Jimmy Stewart plays an idealistic young man named Jefferson Smith, who was appointed to the United States Senate and quickly discovers greed and corruption. Despite the pressure to go along – and though even threatened by false accusations – Senator Smith must sacrifice his own reputation in order to do what is right.
After reading the Declaration of Independence as part of his record filibuster (back when a filibuster was a true filibuster) Smith declares:
“Now, you’re not gonna have a country that can make these kind of rules work, if you haven’t got men that have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose.”
2.Gettysburg:Based on the book, Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, the movie follows the tragic three-day Battle of Gettysburg, which featured the historic clash between the Northern and Southern armies between July 1st and 3rd in the small town of Gettysburg, Penn.
Sweeping, sober and haunting, the film captures the human struggles of this epic and deadly chapter of the Civil War. Anyone fixated on the so-called romanticism of war need only see Gettysburg.
The all-star cast features Martin Sheen and General Robert E. Lee, Jeff Daniels as Captain Joshua Chamberlain and Sam Elliott (that voice!) as Brigadier General John Buford.
In one of the most moving scenes of the film, Captain Chamberlain rhapsodizes:
This is a different kind of army. If you look back through history, you will see men fighting for pay, for women, for some other kind of loot. They fight for land, power, because a king leads them or, or just because they like killing. But we are here for something new. This has not happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free.
America should be free ground – all of it. Not divided by a line between slave state and free, all the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here, we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here, you can be something. Here, is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value – you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end, we’re fighting for each other.
3.The Patriot: Benjamin Martin, played by Mel Gibson, is a peaceful farmer in South Carolina. Or so it seems. When the British attack his family and set fire to his home, he’s compelled to fight.
Viewers should be warned about some violent and brutal scenes (see Plugged In’s review) but no father or mother can watch this movie and not feel emotion.
“What would you do if they destroyed your home, threatened your family?” asks Martin. “Where would you draw the line?”
4.National Treasure:Sometimes the moment calls for a fantastical escape, and most families will enjoy this wonderful franchise starring Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Gates, a treasure seeker and historian.
The first 2004 film features the tale of an invisible marking on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Will it lead to riches or another dead end? Patrick Gates, Ben’s father, played brilliantly by Jon Voight, fears the latter.
“You’re treasure hunters, aren’t you?” asks Abigail Chase, Gate’s eventual partner in the film. “We’re more like treasure protectors,” Ben replies.
5.Pride of the Yankees:Starring Gary Cooper, this movie is a biographical drama chronicling the inspirational, truelife story of the legendary Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig, who would later earn the nickname “The Ironhorse” for playing in 2,130 consecutive games.
But what makes this a July 4th movie? At the risk of giving the ending away, Gehrig contracts a fatal illness called ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Knowing full well that he is dying, the ailing ballplayer is honored at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939 – and with no notes, expresses gratitude for the life he’s been privileged to live:
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.
In the midst of his trials and troubles, Lou considered himself the luckiest man … what an attitude of gratitude. I’m thinking of our country this July 4th. We’re a deeply divided nation. There’s soaring inflation, social unrest and growing concerns and questions about our leaders and their lack of leadership.
Yet – there’s no place most of us would rather be than right here in the United States of America this July 4th. If you’re an American, you’re not just lucky – you’re blessed. Despite all our challenges and conflicts, our country on this, its 246th birthday, remains the last, and best hope of the world.
Katherine Lee Bates wrote the words to the famous patriotic hymn, America the Beautiful, right here in Colorado Springs. Her poem is now something of a prayer:
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
Happy July 4th!