Movies, old and new, are as American as apple pie

July 04, 1994|By John Scalzi | John Scalzi,McClatchy News Service

Proud to be an American, but the thought of going out and watching things explode in the night sky has you fighting with the dog for space under the bed?

Let Fido have the dust bunnies. Here are some Fourth of July videos to watch, reflecting various facets of the American Experience.

You can watch them inside, away from exploding objects and small children running around with sparkly. Nothing on these videos will suddenly erupt. And that's a promise.

* "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939): Who can resist the sight of Jimmy Stewart, as former Boy Scout-type-leader-turned-Senator Jefferson Smith? Smith's emotional filibuster against the forces of corruption and greed is still one of the most stirring moments in movie history, and what most people wish their senators would do.

* "The Distinguished Gentleman" (1992): In this updating of "Mr. Smith," Eddie Murphy goes to Washington with the full intent of scamming as much as he can carry away. But then those long-buried concepts of honorable public service poke up. It's always inconvenient when they do that. It's not "Mr. Smith," but it's not so bad.

* "Dave" (1993): But why be just a member of Congress when you can be president? Bill Mitchell (Kevin Kline) has the presidency thrust upon him when the president (for whom Bill was substituting at a public appearance) has a massive stroke. Presented with many administrative opportunities, Bill decides to try to make life a little better for his fellow citizens.

* "1776" (1972): Hey, Gen Xers, think that the only piece of music to come out of the American Revolution was the Schoolhouse Rock version of the Preamble of the Constitution? Guess again. Here's an entire musical based on the formation of the United States, with all the Founding Fathers as you've never seen them before: spontaneously breaking into song. I hear they do that on the Senate floor occasionally.

* "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942): The musical based on the life of vaudeville legend George M. Cohan (James Cagney) has a show-stopping musical number, featuring what has got to be the most patriotic song of all time. Guess what it is. No, not "America the Beautiful." This film also happens to be one of the best musicals ever.

* "Patton" (1970): George S. Patton, general's general, played by George C. Scott, an actor's actor. Mr. Scott strides around North Africa and Europe as if it were a backyard, making mincemeat of the Germans and recounting his past lives. The opening scene, with Patton swearing at his troops, is one of the most imitated in recent history.

* "Sands of Iwo Jima" (1949): On the other side of the planet, here's John Wayne as the hated Sgt. Stryker, whose toughness nevertheless helps keep his troops together in combat. One of the best World War II films of its time, it got Wayne his first nomination for an Oscar.

* "The Alamo" (1960): Look! Here's the Duke again, and in a fetching coonskin cap, we might add. This time around, Wayne is Davy Crockett, who, with pals Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark) and Sam Houston (Richard Boone), battles the mighty Santa Ana.

* "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982): Nothing like a stint in the military to teach a young man honor. Richard Gere stars as a guy on the road to nowhere who decides to try to become a naval aviator. Thanks to his drill sergeant (Lou Gossett Jr.), he finds out it's not nearly as easy as he thinks it's going to be.

* "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989): On the other hand, here's the story of a young man, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), who had one sort of patriotism when he went off to fight the Vietnam War and, later, after being wounded and dragging himself though physical and mental torment, comes through at the end with another sort entirely. Oliver Stone was awarded his second directing Oscar for this film, and Tom Cruise got an Oscar nomination.

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